The fairy's nest stank for miles!
The longer he observed it from above, hidden amidst the clouds and positioned against the wind, the angrier Vainqueur grew. This… this insult to the dragon way of life would not survive the day.
It had taken him hours to locate it, due to powerful illusions shrouding the area from sight; phantasms that his [Hunter’s Resolve] Perk and magical items had easily negated. And when they had finally found the farm in the midst of a forest, Vainqueur had to struggle not to attack it on sight.
For the fairies had copied his Dodocare design, to make a mockery of it!
Instead of breeding birds for their own protection, the fairies had captured large groups of malnourished manlings, beastkin, kobolds, and other intelligent species in large cages, with twenty of them sharing a six square meters space. The prisons were arranged in rows, overseen by a black wood fort and a pack of fairy hounds.
In short, this was a slave breeding ground.
Vainqueur would have been appalled at how the fairies treated their minions on principle, but something else infuriated him. The stench of dragon blood that pervaded this insult to dungeon breeding.
“Gorynych doesn’t like this place,” the zmey said, Knight Kia on his back. “Can Gorynych go back to master?”
“Not yet,” Kia said, glaring at the pens. “Not yet.”
“I want this place burnt to the ground,” Vainqueur said. “This insult to the dragon way of life shall not stand.”
“Your Majesty, we may prevail if we attack head on, but we also risk harming the prisoners,” Knight Kia said, speaking like Manling Victor. “They may have more in the fort. We need a plan. I suggest you distract them while I free the captives.”
As she spoke, three figures walked out of the wooden fort and moved towards the pens. The dragon and his substitute minion observed them more closely.
Vainqueur recognized one of them as Mell Lin the piper, Mag Mell’s cowardly spawn, who assisted nuisances like adventurers and Batling Lavere. This time though, he had abandoned his manling disguise to reveal his true shape, that of an emaciated, ghoulish figure with bark skin. Some kind of armored orc taller than average with that worm Sablar's symbol painted on his chest followed him, alongside a humanoid black tiger.
“Frank the Anark,” Knight Kia recognized the orc. “A Sablar follower that I ‘fought’ with Jolie. The other must be a rakshasa. They use illusions—”
“Quiet,” Vainqueur replied, as serious as he had ever been. “I am trying to listen.”
Focusing on his sharp dragon hearing, capable of distinguishing the M from the m, the wyrm attempted to hear their conversation even with the great distance separating them.
|Skill check successful.|
“... interesting,” the tiger spoke. “What about elves?”
“Elves, being a rarer species, tend to drop better items when killed by an [Old Money] user,” the orc replied. “The target’s level does affect the quality, but the species matters more. The more powerful and rare the base creature, the greater the reward for killing it.”
“And of course, humans have the lowest yield, while dragons provide the highest,” Mell Lin stated the obvious. “What about [Crests]? Any new discoveries on that front?”
“Adult dragons almost always drop one, and someone of Knightsbane’s caliber is probably worth an [Heroic Crest].”
“I meant, for creatures other than dragons,” Mell Lin replied icily, examining caged kobolds.
The tiger shook his head. “No matter our efforts, we haven’t found a way to make the lesser races drop [Crests] when they die.”
The orc made a strange hand gesture at the rakshasa, raising his third finger. Maybe they were exchanging hand signs as part of a code? “The System encourages the weak to fight the strong, so we ‘lesser races’ can reach ever greater heights. You need heroic feats to prove yourself worthy of a [Crest]. Trying to ‘cultivate’ them like fruit is pointless.”
“And I say that if Lord Mag Mell could create [Black Crests] imitations, then we can breed manlings capable of dropping [Crests] in a few generations.”
“They won’t have generations,” Mell Lin replied. “My sister wants them all exterminated within two years, if bombing them back to the stone age won’t finish the job. We need more [Crests] now, and [Heroic Crests] even more. The longer my sister stays level 60, the more impatient she becomes.”
The orc and the rakshasa exchanged a worried glance. “Maybe other planes?” the former proposed. “The enemies there are stronger on average than Outremonde’s. You could start with the angels."
“They will yield more experience?” the tiger asked.
“No, but nobody will miss them. Destroying the world is one thing, but afterlife insurance scams? That’s just low.”
Mell Lin shrugged in response. “In any case, prepare to pack your things when my sister returns from her ‘harvest.’ Our dear father bit off more than he could chew, and while she can’t scry on Knightsbane due to his Perks, my sister believe that he will be on his way to this location soon.”
“What do we do with the captives then?” the tiger asked.
“Use [Black Crests] on the toughest of them, to bolster our ranks with more fairy beasts. The rest, round them up for target practice.” Mell Lin chuckled to himself. “Now, orc, as my class planner, should I kill them with spells or music?”
“You would be better served with more [Bard] levels, to expand the reach of your melodies.”
The group reached a suspiciously empty cage, whose soil was red with blood. Vainqueur suddenly realized that this spot, in particular, reeked of fresh dragon blood.
“Where is my wyrm pet?” Mell Lin asked the tiger, causing the Emperor above to ready his claws.
“Lord Ravana accidentally got carried away while he practiced his [Rune Knight] class, and killed him with a spell-boosted hit.” Vainqueur saw red, trembling with rage. “We harvested the blood and bones for your sister’s use though.”
“My, and I had grown attached to him.” the piper shook his head, before scolding his acolytes. “You should have been more careful. While dragons yield less exp when beaten within an inch of their life than killed, this blunder cost us a renewable source of easy levels. Adult wyrms are difficult to capture alive.”
“Well, the good news is, he got a [Dragonslayer] level out of it,” Frank the orc said, the fairy chuckling in response.
|Intelligence check successful! [Berserk] negated!|
Vainqueur had heard enough.
“Do we attack?” Knight Kia asked, having heard nothing, but saw Vainqueur’s furious expression.
“Yes!” the dragon snarled, gathering his breath for an attack. “Let no fairy escape!”
“Gorynych, at my signal, you dive down while I create a barrier between these monsters and the captives’ pens,” Knight Kia said, raising her blade. “Our priority is to protect the slaves first. Your Majesty, can I leave the fomor to you?”
Indeed. Time to emancipate these minions.
“[Charged Attack]...” Vainqueur prepared to blast the damn piper all the way to planet Moon, although he was very careful to aim his attack so there would be no minion casualties.
With the benefit of surprise on the dragon’s side, the piper would never escape—
Screaming his name, Icefang dived from a cloud, trying to steal Vainqueur’s kills right before his nose.
The sudden noise caused Mell Lin to raise his head and notice the dragons above him. Realizing the surprise was lost, Vainqueur hurriedly launched a beam of light at the piper, although wary not to hit the caged minions.
Reacting far quicker, the fomor opened a fairy ring and leapt through it, the orc managing to jump in right afterward. The rakshasa, not so lucky, was instantly vaporized by Vainqueur’s focused nuclear light, the soil turning to molten glass.
Icefang, meanwhile, stomped a fairy beast upon landing, roared to announce his presence, and then unleashed his breath. A cold, icy blizzard came out of his mouth, freezing the fairy hounds that dared to challenge him and the slaves unfortunate enough to get caught in the way. Dozens of manlings were transformed into ice statues, while Manling Kia screamed at the dragon to stop.
Knight Kia and Gorynych hurried to rescue the captive minions, raising a wall of flames between Icefang and the pens to shield them from his breath. The farm erupted into such chaos, that Vainqueur no longer knew where to begin. When fairy hounds almost trampled the pen while fleeing Icefang's rampage, the Emperor moved to protect the slaves, punching a hole through a monster’s chest, and then sending a second flying towards the forest.
“Ah!” Icefang taunted his rival, who had only killed a few fairy thralls. Icefang’s compatriots, Magnifique and Suffisante, descended from the clouds, to tally the dead. “You have already given up?”
“You silver-loving idiot!” Vainqueur hissed, as the last of the fairy servants escaped to the forest. The Emperor took the time to launch a fireball in their direction, blasting trees apart, and then focused back on his ‘rival.’ “You let the piper escape!”
“As if I would let you claim the lead!”
“Well, at this rate, we can already declare Icefang the winner,” Magnifique said, landing with his colleague among the crater left by Vainqueur’s blast. His eyes settled on the caged manlings. “Free minions!”
“I want the elves,” Suffisante insisted, noticing a tiny, leaf-eared child among the captives. “Look at this one! She is so adorable!”
“What were you thinking?!” Knight Kia snarled at the trio, as she cast healing spells on the slaves Icefang had turned to ice. “You harmed them!”
“Vainqueur, your minion is talking back,” Icefang complained. “Teach her the food chain or I will do it myself.”
“Is that a zmey?” Suffisante reeled at the sight of Gorynych, who had the decency to lower his head and tail in submission. “Vainqueur, you travel with a zmey?”
“Is that your long lost cousin?” Icefang mocked him. “That explains a lot! He has your eyes!”
“He is the minion of my minion!” Vainqueur defended himself.
“You think this is a game?” Knight Kia ignored the minion way of speaking, but since she did it to Icefang this time, Vainqueur let it slide. “These captives are barely clinging to life, you could have killed them with your stupid stunt!”
Suffisante laughed. “Manling, they are not people. They are minions!”
“Yes, they are like goblins,” Magnifique added. “You leave a cave empty for a month, and before you know it a new population has resapa—reasa...”
“Respawned,” Suffisante said. “The proper, System-approved term is respawned.”
“Respawned, yes. Minions are renewable, the dragon-made universe provides them to us on command. Lose some, win some.”
Knight Kia remained speechless for a second. “This isn’t sarcasm,” she said. “You truly believe everything you said.”
“What is sarcasm, some kind of food?” Magnifique asked.
“Minions are not renewable!” Vainqueur hit the ground with his fist, making the other, smaller dragons shake in surprise. “They cost a fortune to raise, and can be made near-extinct! And these creatures are slaves, a fairy mockery of the proud minion institution!”
“They’re minions,” Icefang replied, too dim to understand the profound nuances of the dragon way of life. “They’re food. That’s why they’re minions.”
“They are emergency food,” Vainqueur reminded him. “They have feelings, and their loyalty must be earned. No true dragon disposes of them for no good reason!”
“Vainqueur, you have been talking to your breakfast for too long,” Icefang rasped in disgust. “You sound like your niece!”
“I turned a city into a buffet!” Vainqueur defended his regime.
“I can attest to it,” Knight Kia spoke up.
“Guys, don’t get worked up over how to treat minions.” Suffisante rolled her eyes while ignoring the [Paladin]. “Can we just agree that dealing with individual minions should be left to their dragon master’s judgment?”
“Yes, we came here to see which one of you could kill the most fairies, and the only fomor in sight has escaped,” Magnifique pointed out. “He cannot have gone far.”
“There is something more important at hands here!” Vainqueur roared, pointing a claw at the empty cage, “A dragon died in this place!”
“Oh, that smell?” Suffisante hummed the wind. “Indeed, that is worrying.”
“Pff, who will mourn a handicapped dragon?” Icefang shrugged. “Although this insult to dragonkind shall not stand, I agree with you. The fairy’s days are numbered.”
“Death…” Vainqueur caught himself but realized he could no longer keep this secret. “Death is not a birth defect. Every dragon can die.”
For a moment, the three dragons said nothing, exchanging glances among each other.
Then they burst out laughing.
“This is the truth,” Vainqueur insisted, remaining a dignified visionary even when faced with mockery. “Every dragon can die, and if you keep laughing, you will discover it yourself. Even I can die.”
The trio immediately stopped laughing, although they remained blind to their own ignorance. “Vainqueur, I was once proud to be your rival, but clearly you have gone soft and mad,” Icefang said after he calmed himself. “No true dragon can die!”
“True dragons do not believe themselves immortal.” Vainqueur remained firm. “To be a dragon is to look at Death, and burn its sorry face!”
“Say what you want, I have a fairy head trophy to claim.” The frost dragon extended his wings, to go after Mell Lin. “I will leave you with the zmeys and food you prefer over your own kind.”
“At least they make better conversation than you!” Vainqueur roared back, as the frost dragon flew away.
“Vainqueur, you truly need to form a dragon adventurer party,” Magnifique said, as he and Suffisante followed after Icefang. “Don’t lose your way!”
The Great Calamity of this Age sneered as these children, only to notice Knight Kia and Gorynych giving him strange looks. “What?”
“You and Victor are definitely not heroes, but…” Kia scratched the back of her head, “You aren’t without your good sides either.”
“Big V defended Gorynych!” the zmey wagged his tail in happiness.
Vainqueur ignored him, focusing on the disgusting smell pervading this place. Following it towards the wooden fort, the dragon punched his way through the wall; the sight welcoming him made him freeze.
The bones of a dragon hung from the ceiling above pools full of its distilled blood. Some strange machinery pumped the golden, tarnished fluid into a half-made crest of solid darkness.
Vainqueur remembered the dragons he and Manling Victor had rescued in the Winter Kingdoms. About how happy the Emperor had felt, how bothered he had been over Furibon’s escape, and how he had thought the matter settled. It had never occurred to him that the fairies could have hunted other members of his kind elsewhere.
He had been wrong.
They didn’t save them all.
In the end, Vainqueur had used his [Golden Road] to evacuate his new minions to Murmurin. Since they had been abducted by fairies, most of them choose to live under the fair, iron hand of a dragon, rather than risk capture again. They had taken the bones of his kindred through, so he could be buried in a dragon’s empire rather than fairy-tainted soil.
Finally, he had burnt the fairy farm to the ground, the wooden fort first. He remained there watching the bonfire for a good hour, Gorynych resting nearby.
“For all of what it is worth, I think you were in the right,” Manling Kia said, trying to comfort him as a true minion should.
“Of course I am in the right. But such is the burden of the visionary, to swim against the current of their own kind.” He had thought himself invincible too, before discovering the TRUTH!
“Yeah… being good sometimes means going unrecognized, or not being rewarded at all,” Knight Kia said. “But someone has to do it.”
“Not being rewarded?” Vainqueur asked. “Of course I have been rewarded. I gained hundreds of new minions for remaining true to the dragon way of life.”
“Yes, but… you know what, forget what I said. You still did good. I just wish we could do more slave liberating than country conquering.”
Truth to be told, Vainqueur was tired of both. “Time to return home,” the dragon decided. “This trip was entertaining while it lasted, but I miss the warmth of my hoard. We move west, do a few more quests to fill my wallet, and then we put this behind me.”
“Doesn’t Your Majesty want to attack the local fomors?” Knight Kia suggested. “They must be hiding somewhere.”
Vainqueur froze, as he suddenly remembered something.
“Mell Lin said that his sister would return from harvest,” the dragon noted out loud, looking at the direction where Icefang and his group went flying.
Mmm… should he even bother? If Icefang and his group won, it was one less problem for him to deal with; if they died, well, they had mocked him and it was not his problem.
“Minion, to arms.”
Knight Kia beamed and immediately jumped on Gorynych’s back.
Vainqueur extended his wings and flew after his foolish rival.
Vainqueur had gone soft.
Even if he loathed that arrogant, self-proclaimed ‘Great Calamity of this Age,’ Icefang couldn’t believe that any dragon worth their salt would act as he did. Preserve the life of minions? Dragons not being immortal? What next, the Moooooon was made of lead? He had already doubted Vainqueur's sanity when he had sacrificed his hoard to revive his chief of staff, but his mental state had clearly worsened since.
The title of greatest dragon in the world needed a new holder, and fast. Someone who deserved it. All his kind would see it on Samhain.
|Skill check successful!|
In any case, it didn’t take Icefang long to locate the fomor; he could have tracked his smell halfway across the planet with his awesome [Ninja] skills. The piper and his orc lackey had retreated to a naga village, meeting up with a female fairy witch with crimson eyes. She was listening to her fellow fairy's hasty words with a cold expression, surrounded by corpses.
The local nagas had dropped dead. There was no hint of battle, no scorch mark, no destroyed houses. They must have been instantly slain by the fairy’s magic.
Icefang didn’t care. More fairies meant more glory and more rewards. The dragon announced his presence with a roar, circling the village before making a dramatic landing right in front of them. His mighty body blew dust in all directions and collapsed the nearest house.
While the piper and the orc shielded their face from the dust with their arms, the third member of the trio didn’t even flinch. The female fairy simply looked at Icefang with crimson eyes, her purple hair falling upon her shoulders. “A new volunteer.”
Icefang answered by unleashing an icy breath at the fomors. The female fairy casually conjured a spherical, purple barrier around her group, shielding them from the attack. “Return to Prydain, Lin,” she ordered the piper, her protection vanishing. “Leave them to me.”
“Do you need golem reinforcements?”
The lesser fomor didn’t even question the order, opening a fairy gate and vanishing through with the orc.
“Leave them to me, she said,” Magnifique chuckled, as he and Suffisante landing right behind Icefang. “Since she asked so nicely, maybe we could share?”
“If you dare steal my kill, I am cutting your share of the next quest,” Icefang told the others. This fairy was clearly stronger than the piper, and as such worth much more. Maybe she would drop an [Heroic Crest]?
“Aw, but we only get levels if we intervene!” Suffisante protested. “You already all but won the contest with Vainqueur! You can at least share this one!”
“Knightsbane is nearby?” The fairy raised her head, a glimpse of satisfaction in her eyes. “Good.”
The fact that she cared more about that sorry excuse for a red dragon rather than him infuriated Icefang. “You should fear me instead of Knightsbane! You face the leader of the Silver Dragon Adventurer Company, the great Ice—”
“I do not care for your name,” the fairy brazenly cut him off. “I will not remember it.”
“Bold words for a nameless fairy,” the frost dragon hissed back.
“The three of you are already dead. Tell me where Knightsbane is and I will make it painless.”
“You face the most powerful dragon party in the world,” Suffisante taunted her back. “A [Paladin] [Priest], a [Vestal] [Druid], and... a [Ninja] [Pyromancer].”
“It is a perfectly valid combination!” Icefang snarled.
“All that I face is three walking corpses,” the fairy said, a purple aura flaring around her. “Dragon blood is a source of power, but the one coursing through my veins only served to bolster my divine fomor nature.”
Icefang would have taunted her, had the air not suddenly gotten heavier.
An invisible, overwhelming pressure overtaking the atmosphere, crushing him beneath its weight.
“Although, I would not have been able to access this class without it.”
The fairy’s body exploded into a shroud of purple darkness, a monstrous, titanic shape erupting from it; an oh-so-familiar shape, that made the three dragons step back in shock.
Icefang didn’t know what he felt at this moment, but it itched.
|[Dragon Arrogance] overcome by [Terror].|
Icefang and his party members prepared to fight for their lives, as the abomination before them let out a soul-rending wail.